Sound Without an AV Receiver – What Are Your Options?
In the world of home theater, there are few absolutes. But one thing is for certain; everyone thinks you absolutely must have an AV receiver. While we tend to agree, that isn’t always in the cards for every user. Maybe they don’t have the money right now for another piece of AV gear. Maybe they don’t have the room for a big, black box. Whatever the reason, some people just want sound without having to hook up an AV receiver. What are your options? Let’s break it down!
Why You Want an AV Receiver
Well, an AV receiver really makes everything easier. You can plug all of your devices into it. It will send the video up to your TV or projector and decode the audio and play it through just about any speaker. In the long run, if you want a fully functional home theater, an AV receiver (or something similar) is inevitable.
Why Might You Not Want an AV Receiver
There are three possible answers to this question. The first two we already mentioned – space and cost. But the third is a little different. While a well–chosen and set up AV receiver can make everything easier, they are pretty complicated devices. While they may seem simple to the enthusiast, for most, they are a mishmash of jargon, connections, and colors that make little sense. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a home (or Airbnb) and marveled at how an AV receiver was set up. Cutting out the AV receiver when all you want is to make your TV sound better or louder is attractive to many people. And I don’t blame them.
The most common solution to getting sound without an AV receiver is to buy a soundbar. We’ve written an article about soundbars to make it easy for you. In short, you’ll send the audio from your TV down to the soundbar. If you have additional sources (game systems, Ultra HD Blu-ray players, streaming boxes), you’ll usually connect them to the TV directly. Sometimes you can connect them to the bar as well. Either way, you’ll have sound but no AV receiver. Problem solved.
What About Real Speakers
You may have read that soundbars were invented by the devil and that they are some sort of war crime. At least, that’s what the people on Reddit say. While we don’t have a problem with soundbars (they are usually the first step many people take into home theater), we agree that real speakers would be better. In this case, you are looking for a powered speaker. Like these Fluance bookshelf speakers we reviewed a while back.
Powered speakers would be plugged directly into your TV (via the RCA outputs). Usually, you can use the TV remote to control the volume. The speakers have their own amps so you don’t need an AV receiver to amplify the sound. Of course, these speakers don’t have inputs or processing of their own so you’ll have to plug everything into your TV.
There are lots of downsides to using powered speakers for home theater. One reason people give for wanting “real” speakers rather than a soundbar is that they want to use them later. That’s not as easy as you’d think. They can’t be plugged directly into an AV receiver unless that receiver has pre-outs. Even then, calibration and timbre matching becomes much more difficult. While you’ll probably enjoy better sound from powered speakers than from a soundbar, it isn’t the panacea you might expect.
Some people look for smaller AV receivers or something with fewer features that somehow costs less. These don’t really exist. You can sometimes find small DAC/amp combos (like this Fosi Audio DA2120A) but these are usually designed with desktop use in mind. They are not meant to power home theater speakers to reference level from 12 feet away.
Our favorite recommendation is to buy B-stock or refurbished (Accessories4Less is our favorite outlet) AV receivers. You can get them for much less than retail and with a full manufacturer’s warranty. Just make sure you buy from an authorized dealer.
Used is always an option. Even very old AV receivers can still function perfectly well (we have a guide on how to use them with your new TV). You can save a lot of money buying used. Just make sure you are getting exactly what you need. If all you need is something to get sound out of your speakers, any AV receiver will do. As long as you can figure out how to connect it to your TV, that is.
Is an AV receiver an important device in a home theater setup? Of course. It is arguably the most important. But there are ways around it if you don’t have the space, money, or need for one. Do you have a setup that eschews an AV receiver? How did you set it up? Let us know in the comments!